Read the first part of my new short story for Young Adults,”Twilight of the Gods,” which will be published on June 6 by Sunbury Press in their Climate Fiction Short Story Anthology: Cloud Eleven.
The word came down about Jax late in the day and released a cold shiver that stopped just short of her spinal tap. She was lying on her side with her legs drawn up close to her chest. A clear plastic bag hung from a sterile hook draining fluids into her arm. It was supposed to mitigate the pain, but it was always the same: she would have a killer headache after this.
“Almost done,” Felix said, in the most reassuring voice he could muster. It almost sounded sincere. It made no difference to her. She was used to this. She stared at the white wall, which matched her expression perfectly. “There.” He swabbed something cold on her back. Now the questions would come. “You knew Jax, right?”
The logs had said that Jax had been scanned out around midnight Saturday, three days ago, but Felix said no one could recall seeing him for at least a week. But that wasn’t true either, and she knew it. She had, in fact, seen Jax on Friday night, just before the logs had recorded his last known whereabouts. But she wasn’t about to tell Felix that. Sure, she had known Jax. She knew everyone from her region who had gone missing. What she couldn’t admit (or wouldn’t, at least to Felix), was that this time it was different.
“You’re from Region XIII, right Mir?”
“Yeah. That’s right.” She swung her legs over the edge of the table, crinkling the white paper beneath her, and sending the room into a spin. She listed to the side as she tried to steady herself.
“You alright, Mir?” She pressed her fingertips to her temples. “Mir?”
She dropped her hands to the table and fixed her gaze on him, almost willing the room—and the questions—to stop. “I’m fine.”
Felix nodded. “So?”
“So what, Felix?”
“Did you know him?”
“Yeah. I knew Jax,” Mir said, sliding off the table and into a wheelchair. “Why wouldn’t I?”
The persistent probing for information was common among the staff at Tungsten. It was human nature to want to know more. But the battle they were fighting required countering both humanity and nature. Felix could pry all he wanted, it wouldn’t make a difference. Elaborate safeguards had been put into place. No one knew more than they had to in order to complete their immediate function. It was vital to the success of the mission. What exactly that mission was remained a mystery, even to Mir.
Felix wheeled Mir back to her room through a maze of corridors, each one painted in a bland Tungsten-grey. Overhead LED’s tripped on as they passed. The headache arrived before they got there. At the entrance to her room, Mir stood and pushed the wheelchair away, steadying herself with her IV stand. The back of her gown hung open revealing her taught, five-foot frame, but she made no effort to cover herself. She was a ghost of her former self. It was strange. In a lot of ways, she knew that she was physically stronger. She had no problem with the strength regimens that they had subjected her to, but at the same time she was wasted, spent. Her lung capacity and stamina had diminished by half since coming to this place. The contradiction confounded her, but this place was full of contradictions.
“Mir, let me help you with that.”
“I’ve got it, Felix. Hand me my meds.” Felix handed her a plastic pill bottle the color of liquid iodine. She opened it with her teeth, shook a couple of tablets into her mouth, and proceeded to grind them to a grainy powder between her back molars.
“Jax is the fifth in a matter of weeks from Region XIII—the twenty-fifth overall,” Felix said. “They say it’s too soon. They’ll never survive out there. The modifications haven’t had enough time to take hold. I have to admit from what I’ve seen I agree with them.”
Mir lowered herself onto her bed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about—no one does.”
“I know, but it all adds up, doesn’t it? The treatments, the gene therapy, the implants…you’re being reengineered.”
“I’m not interested in your theories, Felix. Even if I was, the fact that it all adds up doesn’t add up! Why would they go through such great lengths and expense to hide something so obvious?”
“You gotta point there—but I’ve heard it before. Why not hide in plain sight? And what’s up with Region XIII? Of all the regions, Region XIII has had the least…”
“Felix! My head is splitting, let’s save the conspiracy theory chat for tomorrow, eh?”
“Sure, Mir, yeah.” He maneuvered the wheelchair through the doorway, dejected. “Your next treatment is…Friday, right?”
“Okay, see you then.” He caught the door just before it closed behind him. “One more thing…”
Light from the midnight sun seeped into the room through panes of thick glass that tinted automatically with the sun’s rays. As the sun dipped below the treetops, small LED’s lining the ceiling peeked on. Mir stared out the window through the darkening woods, the thickets of trees standing in their legions like dark sentinels. She watched as the sun settled just above the ground, though it would not descend into the earth, not tonight. And now the purple dusk of twilight time, she thought. It was one of the few clues as to their location. Six months of daylight, six months of relative darkness. They were somewhere close to the Arctic Circle. It had taken her months to get used to the new sleep pattern. Mir had thought that the facility lay somewhere north of Fairbanks, but Jax had wondered if they weren’t closer to the Northwest Territories. Jax, she thought. Jax is gone, really gone, and then the tears came.
She replayed their last day together over in her mind. They had planned to spend a few hours exploring the mountainside along the eastern edge of the compound. They had covered most of the accessible ground within the protected perimeter and had just one more section to cover. Besides, Jax had needed to get some fresh air, he had said. It invigorated him, even if it was now in fact foreign to his system. Jax had been recovering from his latest treatment, but Mir’s next step in the progressions was, at the time, still a week away. In the beginning, the two of them had progressed together, but Jax had proven to be much more resilient, so his treatments had been accelerated.
They had exited the facility at the Observation Level and skirted the edge of the property beyond the eastern wall at sunset. Their clothes were drenched with sweat almost immediately. The two had traversed the rocky hillside dozens of times and knew the rugged terrain well. Every stone felt familiar beneath their feet. They followed the well-worn path up the mountainside toward the trees. A purple veil had blanketed the deep woods in a mystic hue. It was in-between time: not quite day, not yet night, the time when the seen and unseen worlds collide. When they had entered the shadows below the canopy, they stopped for a moment to collect themselves, but Jax couldn’t catch his breath. She grasped his hand almost instinctively. It was wiry and gaunt, like hers, yet still remarkably strong despite its wasted appearance. Even so, Jax knew he had been spread too thin. The progressions, it seemed, had finally caught up with him. They decided to turn around and return to the facility.
When they arrived, they took the vacant southwest corridor to Jax’s room. They lingered there late into the evening reminiscing about their childhood on the High Plains. It had become a sort of ritual that they had developed between them. In turn, they would intone the stories over and over again, hoping the small joys of the distant past would guide them in an uncertain future. At the end of the night, Jax had melded their memories of the past into his dream for the future. They would reclaim a corner of this wasted world as their own, he had said, and recapture the forgotten dream that it once was.
Now, standing in her room, Mir gazed into the half night, into that in-between world of not yet. Jax’s dream for the future and her memories of the past were slipping away from her, as sure as the tears now slipped from her cheeks. She tried desperately to hold on to the thought of them—to the thought of him, but it was no use. Reality had seeped in and she was alone. Jax had been her connection to a life that once was and to a promise that was still yet to be. He had been a buffer to the bleakness of this world, just like this place was a buffer to the outside world. But now, a stark reality was moving in, as sure as the rising sea waters encroached upon the high ground.
Read the rest of “Twilight of the Gods” when it’s published on June 6, 2017, by Sunbury Press as a part of their Climate Fiction Anthology: Cloud Eleven.